TOKYO — Eight people have been rescued and are in "good condition" after a U.S. Navy cargo plane carrying 11 crew members and passengers crashed into the Pacific Ocean off Japan, the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet said Wednesday.
The search for the remaining three people is continuing.
It was the latest accident to befall the 7th Fleet, which is based in the Japanese port of Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, and has endured multiple collisions at sea this year, including two that involved guided-missile destroyers and left 17 sailors dead.
The C-2A Greyhound aircraft was on a routine flight from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in southern Japan to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, which is in the Philippine Sea for exercises with Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force.
It crashed at 2:45 p.m. local time Wednesday, the 7th Fleet said in a statement. The cause of the crash was not immediately known, it said, and an investigation will be conducted.
The eight who were rescued were transferred to the Reagan for medical evaluation. They were later described by the Navy as being in “good condition.”
The Reagan crew and Japanese forces were conducting search-and-rescue operations Wednesday afternoon to recover the remaining crew members and passengers. “We are monitoring the situation. Prayers for all involved,” President Trump wrote in a Twitter post.
“The Maritime Self-Defense Force is currently searching with U.S. forces,” Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said, according to public broadcaster NHK. “We received information from U.S. forces that the cause is possibly engine malfunction.”
Onodera voiced concern about the frequency of aircraft accidents involving U.S. forces, saying he would ask the American military to take more care with safety issues. This was an apparent reference to last month’s crash on Okinawa, when a transport helicopter caught fire during a training flight and crashed just 300 yards from houses. No one was injured.
The C-2A, a twin-engine cargo plane designed to transport people and supplies to and from aircraft carriers, crashed 93 miles northwest of Okinotori island, about halfway between Okinawa and Guam, according to the Okinawa Defense Bureau.
The 7th Fleet has been conducting exercises linked to the recent rise in tensions with North Korea. This month, for the first time in a decade, it carried out a three-carrier strike exercise in the sea between Japan and the Korean Peninsula — a show of force that North Korea has decried as warmongering.
Wednesday’s crash is just the latest such incident involving the 7th Fleet this year.
Ten sailors were killed when the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker near Singapore in August, and seven died when the USS Fitzgerald ran into a much heavier container ship off the coast of Japan in June.
The month before, the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain collided with a South Korean fishing vessel off the Korean Peninsula, and the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam ran aground in Tokyo Bay in January.
Most recently, a Japanese tug lost propulsion and drifted into the USS Benfold, another guided-missile destroyer, during a towing exercise last week. No one was injured on either vessel, and the Benfold sustained minimal damage, the 7th Fleet said in a statement on Saturday.
The 7th Fleet has about 50 to 70 ships assigned to it and is responsible for an area that spans 36 maritime countries and 48 million square miles in the Pacific and Indian oceans, according to the Navy.
The Navy removed the admiral in charge from his position in August, citing a "loss of confidence" in his ability to lead, and the Navy's top admiral ordered a fleetwide review of seamanship and training in the Pacific after the McCain collision.
A survey released last month of sailors on the USS Shiloh, a cruiser, painted a damning picture of life in the 7th Fleet. The sailors say they are overworked and undertrained.
"I just pray we never have to shoot down a missile from North Korea," one sailor lamented, according to the Navy Times, "because then our ineffectiveness will really show."
The crew members described dysfunction from the top, suicidal thoughts, exhaustion, despair and concern that the Shiloh was being pushed to sail while vital repairs remained incomplete, the paper reported.
Yuki Oda contributed to this report.